2021 Arts Awards

By Augusta Magazine Staff

Lillie Morris – Artist of the Year Award

Lillie Morris is no stranger to the world of art, especially to the abstract world she creates with her paintbrush and imagination. To Morris, emotion and interpretation are key elements to her body of work. The possibilities for expression are endless while utilizing acrylic paint, collage, mixed media and wax within her work.

The Augusta native is inspired by her surrounding Georgia landscape, including waterways, pastures and rural scenes. Morris also gathers her inspiration from music, poetry and literature to translate into abstract figures. Her viewers are encouraged to interpret her work into their own experiences, creating personal connections through her originality.

“Having people genuinely value your artwork and appreciate the dynamic that original artwork brings to their living space is incredibly encouraging to the artist. It’s a significant part of what motivates us to continue to create,” said Morris.

Becoming a self-taught painter during her childhood, Morris decided to pursue her arts degree at Augusta University. Throughout her career, she has completed five art residencies in Ireland, received several awards, commissioned corporate collections and has exhibited her work internationally.

Despite Morris’ international travels, she can attribute a majority of her success to her hometown. The Augusta community has “supported me personally by providing either exhibition opportunities, teaching opportunities and educational offerings,” Morris explained. She specifically thanks institutions like the Greater Augusta Arts Council, the Gertrude Herbert Institute of Art, the Morris Museum of Art, Augusta University, Sacred Heart Cultural Center, The North Augusta Arts and Heritage Center and the Westobou Gallery.

Her passion for her community is evident, believing that the community and artists work together to create the art we see.


Earnestine Robinson – Arts Professional Award

Earnestine Robinson worked closely with Augusta Mini Theatre (AMT) for 46 years. As AMT’s first official employee, she has worked endlessly with, at times, little to no pay. Regardless, her love for the arts and the community have kept her motivated to improve youth education.

Since 1975, children of all ages have come to AMT seeking a place, and a stage, to express themselves through dance, visual arts, music and theatre. In an area where arts and life skills for youth are historically neglected, AMT has served its purpose for generations. Without professionals like Robinson, there would be a significant gap in the community’s culture and development.

She has performed virtually every role the theatre could need, acting and singing roles included. Some of her other positions included bookkeeper, publicist, receptionist, floor manager and fundraiser. Robinson also wrote and helped publish two social awareness plays that gathered an audience of 100,000 people.

Through her passion for AMT and rigorous work ethic, she was able to support successful alumni who have gone on to professional careers in the arts. As a result, Broadway stages are well within reach for Robinson’s students.

Despite her plan to retire, Robinson felt it was best to stay and help the theatre through the detrimental effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I have been with the mini theatre for 46 years. The theatre has always been a part of me. Whenever there is a need, I’m there,” said Robinson.

Robinson’s unwavering dedication to the arts sets an example for the youth of Augusta. She believes that each student deserves an opportunity to showcase their talents and she is proud to provide that opportunity.

“They each have a gift,” Robinson explained. “With that gift, the students need to showcase what they have through theatre, dance and visual arts.”



Cole Phail – The Kath Girdler Engler Award for Public Art 

Cole Phail created Master Productions in 1999, offering services in video productions, graphic design, murals and more. Notably, Master Productions has also helped the Federal Bureau of Investigation identify suspects by restoring images from low quality surveillance videos. Prior to creating Master Productions, Phail worked as a graphic artist and in video production in Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina.

A Georgia native, Phail has been painting murals since 1989, when he graduated from North Augusta High School. He then attended the Savannah College of Art and Design and Durham Tech. One of Phail’s pieces that you have probably seen downtown is the James Brown Mural on the side of the building at 879 Broad Street. When asked about the James Brown Mural, Phail said, “Being able to represent him in that way has been a blessing for me.” You may also find Phail’s work in local schools, such as Lakeside High School, Grovetown Middle School, Riverside Elementary School and others. Phail has created many pieces that have impacted the local community, and his dedication to his craft and beautiful works of art made him a wonderful candidate to receive the Kath Girdler Engler Public Art Award. Phail says that contributing to the arts community is “incredibly rewarding every day.”



Ooollee Bricker – President’s Award

Augusta native Ooollee Bricker opened her vintage clothing store, Vintage Ooollee, in 2008. Bricker was inspired by her mother to collect vintage clothing. Bricker said, “I wore vintage clothing always. I had a love for old things.” Though her store may be most known for its high-quality vintage clothing, it also offers theatrical quality costume rentals, wigs and professional-grade makeup. Vintage Ooollee also hosts a fashion show called Beats on Broad each year, and the 2021 Blue Party is quickly approaching.

Bricker has been chosen to receive the Greater Augusta Arts Council’s President’s Award, an award selected by the president of the Arts Council Board of Directors, because of her outstanding work in the arts community. As someone with a degree in art, Bricker explains that supporting the arts community is important because “Art is what sets people free…It helps people learn to be more confident.”



Karen Gordon – Volunteer Award

Karen Gordon founded Garden City Jazz in 2003 with a goal “to connect players to new audiences and promote great performances. while developing meaningful programs,” and she has done just that. Some of these Garden City Jazz events include an annual Masters Week Block Party, Labor Day Jazz Weekend and many other concerts. Gordon also co-founded Growing Augusta: Arts, Agriculture & Agency in 2018, an organization that connects farmers with creators to provide resources and support for their businesses.

Having grown up in Augusta, Gordon studied public relations at Augusta State University, now called Augusta University. Gordon has always felt her calling was in music. “My father was a classically trained pianist, and although I strayed from it during college while trying to find myself, the music was always there for me,” She explains. It is clear that Gordon’s love for music and for her community influence her work. Though the pandemic has affected Garden City Jazz and their usual performance opportunities, their website lists many upcoming virtual events. As Augusta begins to gradually approach our new normal, Gordon is focused on expanding Growing Augusta by creating designated performance spaces, as well as community gardens to increase the accessibility of healthy foods. Gordon also plans to utilize Urban Pro Weekly to amplify the voices of people of color. Gordon explains that investing this time and energy into the community is critical because, “The arts community is the soul of Augusta. We must honor, respect, and protect it at all costs.”



WJBF News Channel 6 – Media Award

For years, WJBF News Channel 6 has shown their support and love for the local arts community. The station, which began in 1953 as an ABC partner, serves the public interest by anticipating their community’s needs. Their promotion of positive values and responsibility with thorough media coverage shows their passion for the community. 

WJBF has worked hard to earn the reputation they have. They were awarded “Station of the Year” by the Georgia Association of Broadcasters in 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000 and 2003. The Greater Augusta Arts Council’s 2021 Media Award is yet another notch in their belt.

News Channel 6 is the largest news staff in the Central Savannah River Area (CSRA). Their impressive resume is a direct reflection of the station’s commitment to public service.

Ther dedicated staff at News Channel 6 has developed an eager passion for promoting events within the arts community. Getting the word out is an important step in the process of Augusta’s cultural expansion. 

Jennie Montgomery, evening news co-anchor at News Channel 6 said, “Augusta has a thriving arts community, and we want to help promote that.”

Local media platforms must live by a journalistic code to serve the public, and News Channel 6 has done just that. They use their media influence to go above and beyond just covering the news by promoting local artists and businesses. It is common knowledge to WJBF that as the community thrives, so do they.

“We would not be doing our service to Augusta if we did not contribute to the arts community,” said Montgomery.


Augusta Housing and Community Development – Sponsor Award

Augusta relies on outreach programs to provide community improvement and historical preservation. Augusta Housing and Community Development (HCD) is just the department for the job.

Their initiative to promote self-sufficiency through quality housing and economic development expands and fosters the growing community. To HCD, thriving neighborhoods are the key to social and economic development. Remembering the past is also key to the culture in Augusta. HCD works to refurbish historical buildings to commemorate Black History and culture.

Shanna Carkhum, Development Manager at HCD, said “As [we] continue to transform neighborhoods back into thriving communities, it is imperative to connect the old to the new through community inclusion.”

With the services provided by HCD, aspiring artists are given the opportunity to show their talents. HCD invites artists to create murals in areas that are not salvageable. These murals create opportunities and serve as a colorful remembrance of Augusta’s history. HCD partners with the Golden Blocks Project to bring public art to the Laney Walker and Bethlehem neighborhoods. Currently, a piece called “Ember of HOPE” is being installed that tells the story of education in the Golden Blocks area. 

In addition, HCD works to improve underserved areas within the city. By thinking ahead through 2024, the department plans to house the homeless, make a housing market analysis on their developments and make long-term strategies to meet the needs of the community. It is important to ensure the city’s needs are met in order to nurture artistic and cultural relationships in the community. 

“Housing and Community Development is honored to serve as a conduit to promote local artists by celebrating prominent figures of the past through community development. Art is simply a tool used in community development to improve the quality of life. Locals and tourists are able to enjoy and appreciate artist contributions in addition to quality housing and city amenities,” said Carkhum.

 Photo credits Amy J. Owen 

Appears in the August/September 2021 issue of Augusta Magazine.

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